Lately I have been struggling to find topics on leadership to which I could apply the theories discussed in the Leadership in Work Settings course at Pennsylvania State University. I realized I was struggling because I was confining myself to topics on leadership within organizational settings. What I needed to do was expand my thinking outside of the atypical organizational setting. As a result, I found a plethora of situations to which leadership theories could be applied. For this blog, I will focus on the coaching of young kids in sports (any mention of “young kids” or “kids” in the remainder of this blog will mean kids between the ages of seven and nine).
The idea for this blog came to me while I was fetching baseballs behind the umpire in my son’s most recent Little League baseball game. I started thinking about coaching kids in terms of leadership styles as it relates to the Situational Approach. Practices and games have provided a great setting to see how leadership does or doesn’t work, and it truly emphasizes that the situation is a very strong, and often ambiguous, component behind the definition of leadership (which is defined as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal (Northouse, 2013, p. 5).”).
Leadership styles can be defined by the Situational Approach. Specifically, I believe the coaching of kids can be described by the Situational Leadership II (SLII) model. The SLII model defines four leadership styles: Delegating, supporting, coaching, and directing. These styles lie on a continuum under which lies a quadrant that defines the level of supporting behavior and directive behavior. Underneath this lie four boxes that define the development level of the individual being led. The following diagram (Meier, 2007) sums this up…
Let’s first define the development level of the kids using the four boxes on the bottom of the diagram. I would surmise that most of the kids (in the age range already mentioned) playing sports would land in the D1 range. They have much to learn about the fundamentals of the sport (low competence), but they are (for the most part) highly motivated to do well (high commitment; I will not get into what motivates them to do well however). Because of the nature of the SLII model, there is a one-to-one relationship between the development level of the kids and the type of leadership style that should be used (Northouse, 2013, p. 103). So if the development level is to be considered D1, then the leadership style must be that of S1, or a directing style. This seems a little counterintuitive; why use a directing style when a style called “coaching” exists? Shouldn’t a coach be both directing and supporting, as the coaching style proposes? Shouldn’t a coach be highly supportive of the kids, praising their accomplishments and lending advice to help with disappointments, while also defining clear goals and prescribing specific instructions on how to do certain things within the sport?
From a practical and experienced-based standpoint, I would say that a coaching style is more what the kids need; a directing style may be to “cold” to be used with kids (it may be fine for adults in organizational settings however). This illustrates one of the limitations of the SLII model – it does not clearly take into account demographics (mostly age in this case). Additionally, the compartmentalization of development levels and their associated levels of commitment and motivation are not clearly and definitively defined. What solid scientific proof exists that states that the levels D1 through D4 are absolutely correct (Northouse, 2013, pp. 106-108)? The variability in the levels of commitment from D1 through D4 does not make intuitive sense; commitment should be described along a continuum from low to high. Regardless of the shortcomings, the SLII model does provide a leader with some guidance on what type of leadership style would be most effective. One interesting item of note; there is a kids’ sports organization called “i9 Sports.” Their primary goal is to provide an environment where every kid, regardless of ability, is treated equally with respect to playing time and playing opportunity. Because of this, they emphatically instruct their coaches (of which I am one, for the first time I may add) to be extremely supportive and to not be overly competitive. Competitiveness is encouraged, but not to the detriment of the child. The leadership style they encourage is the supporting style. What’s really interesting is actually seeing what coaching styles are employed by the coaches on the field at game time -for some, a very high directing style is used, and you can see the results on the kids’ faces after a play doesn’t work out. This is exactly what “i9 Sports” is trying to prevent – they have empirical evidence that such coaching styles can cause a child to become turned off from playing the game and potentially abandon the playing of sports altogether.
So if you are ever out at the field watching your child play a sport, think about the leadership style being used by the coaches. It can be quite interesting to find out which style is the most predominant. I’d also like to note that I am not an employee of “i9 Sports” – I only volunteer to coach, and I just recently attended a coaches meeting that went over their main philosophy.
Meier, J. (2007, December 25). Situational Leadership 2. Retrieved December 3, 2012, from Sources of Insight: http://sourcesofinsight.com/situational-leadership-ii/
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership – Theory and Practice – Sixth Edition (6th Edition ed.). (L. C. Shaw, & P. Quinlin, Eds.) Thousand Oaks, California, United States of America: SAGE Publications, Inc.